Royal Opera to serve up opera of Buñuel's surreal dinner party in 2017

Thomas Adès’s opera of Exterminating Angel among new season highlights, as well as Anna Netrebko tackling Norma and Jonas Kaufmann singing Otello

An opera based on Buñuel’s surreal film where 20 people who cannot leave a dinner party behave like animals and make love to each while civilisation disintegrates is to be a highlight of the Royal Opera’s new season.

The much anticipated new opera from the British composer Thomas Adès, his third, will open at Covent Garden in April 2017.

The Exterminating Angel will not be suitable for children, Covent Garden’s director of opera Kasper Holten said, but he added that he was not expecting it to be particularly shocking.

The Royal Opera has been in the news in recent months for, in some eyes, shocking scenes on stage. There were complaints and boos last year after a depiction of gang rape in Damiano Michieletto’s production of Guillaume Tell was, for some, protracted and prurient.

Last month the company issued a content warning about Katie Mitchell’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, which opens on Thursday evening.

“The whole Lucia thing demonstrates how difficult it is,” said Holten. “If we don’t warn early people get upset and if we warn, people start focusing only on that warning.

“I hope people don’t come [to Lucia] looking for the sex and the violence because that’s really not the point of the show; what is shocking are the characters who do horrible things to each other.”

Holten was speaking at the 2016-17 programme launch for both the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet, at which it was also announced that Covent Garden’s director of music, Antonio Pappano, has renewed his contract until 2020, making him the longest serving music director in the organisation’s history.

Anna Netrebko, seen here as Mimi in Covent Garden’s La Bohème, will take the title role in Norma.
Anna Netrebko, seen here as Mimi in Covent Garden’s La Bohème, will take the title role in Norma. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The 2016-17 opera season will feature Jonas Kaufmann, to many ears the world’s greatest tenor, making his debut as Verdi’s Otello in a production directed by Keith Warner.

The other new productions are Norma, with the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko taking on the title role for the first time; a new staging of Mozart’s Così fan tutte by the German director Jan Philipp Gloger; Shostakovich’s absurdist opera The Nose; Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, set in Vienna just before the outbreak of the first world war; and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg directed by Holten, his final opera as he prepares to leave Covent Garden in a year’s time.

Holten said it was “such an incredible time” that the two most sought-after opera composers working today were British.

As well as Adès’s new production, which will get its world premiere in Salzburg in July, the Royal Opera will also revive George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which premiered in Aix-en-Provence in 2012. “Since Rossini’s days, no new opera has travelled the world at such speed,” said Holten. “It has been picked up everywhere.”

Royal Ballet highlights include a new one-act ballet from Wayne McGregor with a score by minimalist music pioneer Steve Reich.

Director of ballet Kevin O’Hare described new work as the “lifeblood of any company” and said he was particularly pleased to announce the first ballet commission in the UK from the Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite – thought to be the company’s first commission of a female choreographer since Siobhan Davies made A Stranger’s Taste in 1999.

Other highlights include a new one-act abstract ballet from Liam Scarlett and a new production of Philip Glass’s dance opera Les Enfants Terribles, choreographed by Javier de Frutos.

Because of the redevelopment of the Linbury Studio into the Linbury Theatre, Les Enfants will be put on at the Barbican, one of a number of productions off-site over the next two years.

The stability at the Royal Opera House is in marked contrast to English National Opera, which is going through turbulent times as it tries to change its business model after Arts Council England reduced its subsidy by £5m a year.

Holten said it was important that ENO worked out its problems and survived. “We want opera to thrive, we want ENO to thrive. It is tough for all of us to operate in a country in Europe that has the least public subsidy for opera. We don’t thrive unless ENO thrives … we want them to find the best way out of this and stand strong.”


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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